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QuickStir sugar & creamer spoons: eliminating plastic in to-go beverage environments

Molded spoons made of sugar and creamer that dissolve in beverages, eliminating use of stir-sticks, sugar and half-and-half packets.

Photo of QuickStir: Sugar & Creamer Solution Reinert
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Imagine your daily coffee routine. 

You stand in line at your local coffee shop, (with or without a reusable mug). But today, like most days, you want to add cream or sugar to your beverage. Removing the lid, you reach for a sugar packet, and a small creamer. You pour them in, but the coffee is almost overflowing. The coffee is too hot to mix with your finger or to slosh around without getting it on your new blazer, so you grab for a small stir-stick.

Ugh, these cafes still use the plastic ones. Still, you stir your mug three or four times, and deposit the sugar packet, creamer container, and plastic stir-stick into the nearest receptacle, hoping one day that Starbucks puts in recycling options.

(Yeah, you know what we mean).

Now, multiply those three annoying little plastics you only use once, by all of the times you run out for a coffee. Thats a lot of plastic waste!

Plastic Waste & Morning Coffee(coffee waste - Photo from Costa Rica Guide)

Each year, Americans throw away 138 billion straws and stirrers after using them just once.  In order to vastly cut down on small plastics, this proposal eliminates up to 2-3 small non-recyclable plastics per coffee drinker in retail and to-go environments.

By making an edible replacement, which dissolves when stirred into liquid, the plastic stir-stick suddenly becomes obsolete, and the sugar and creamer packets become unnecessary.

By focusing on combining three individual items into an easy to use sugar-based stirring stick, this is an innovation that benefits BOTH retail and consumer:

  • Economical for retail environments that serve beverages, cutting down on separate sugar, creamer and stir-stick supply chains, as well as separate pricing.
  • Consumers now only have to grab one item instead of two to three when flavoring, stirring and sweetening beverages.
  • Less packaging to deal with, leading to shorter wait times at the sugar counter, and less packaging to throw away in the cafe trash can.
  • Doesn't directly compete with any coffee chain, meaning customers can remain loyal to their favorite brands (Starbucks, Tim Horton's, Dunkin' Donuts, as well as local coffee roasters).


WHY QuickStir DESIGN?

A poll of coffee drinkers found that simply pouring a sugar packet or half-and-half in a circular motion did not blend the additive correctly. Habit offset programs are also not easily adhered to, such as information to put cream and sugar in first before the coffee.

Coffee drinkers expressed desire for something spoon or stick-like to blend the mixtures more evenly, and still wanted autonomy over their own sweetener and creamer habits, due to difference in coffee taste and sweetness, even when ordering similar drinks, because of change in barista or ingredients.


EASE OF USE:

Pick up your QuickStir, put it in hot coffee like a spoon, and stir.

As the QuickStir is moved in a circular motion through the hot liquid, its designed to dissolve easily. QuickStir can also act as a spoon to stir in other additional products if need be (cinnamon, chocolate powder, flavorings, etc).



PARTNERSHIPS & PRODUCT LINE EXPANSION

The design of the QuickStir spoons gives opportunity for partnerships with larger companies looking to green their products and increase innovation. As such, partnerships (with the likes of such as Carnation, Starbucks, Domino Sugar, etc.) would increase values of both brands, and give sustainability and convenience-minded consumers help.

When looking at product line expansion, creamer companies could be targeted, using their dried creamer as a base to mix with sugar, as well as flavored creamer combinations such as Hazelnut, Vanilla, and Caramel.

TESTING & DEVELOPMENT

We took a look into the hard sugar industry, testing the dissolve rate of sugars such as the dipping stick in Fun-Dip, Peppermint Candy Canes, and Rock Candy. We also timed how fast sugar substitutes dissolve, and how many times you really need to stir in order to "combine" your sugar and/or creamer into your beverage.

Fun, right? We found that an average of 5-10 revolutions would be the minimum stir rate needed before the Sugar & Creamer spoons should start to dissolve, while still maintaining a rigidity to legitimize the spoon. (At maximum dissolve rate, 22-25 revolutions seemed “a bit long”).

Additionally, sweetness level was measured: Shinier, harder candies such as the peppermint sticks and rock candy formulae worked for ideal transfer of sugar into beverage, but the sticks stuck around longer than desired. While the Fun-Dip stick ("Lik-M-Aid", made by Willy Wonka's "Nestle" brand) was too ‘chalky’ and didn’t transfer enough sweetness to cup ratio.


More testing insights: 

  • Sugars that are glassier, such as candy-canes, have a longer dissolve time and were not considered ideal.

  • The addition of powdered creamer also changes the dissolve time of both styles of sugar stirrers, and would produce a spoon that is much quicker to mix into the beverage, thus should be pressed into a more dense spoon.

  • When tested, white sugar cubes were promising, while Sugar in the Raw sugar cubes dissolved too quickly, so the QuickStir will be pressed at a higher pressure, with large granules for optimal dissolve rates.


Moving forward, we’d like to focus on sugars that can be easily molded, with some porous texture, to accommodate lukewarm coffee and beverage temperatures. 


TEST TWO: ACTUAL LOW-FI PROTOTYPING: 

We made prototypes of the SugStir concept, and tested them in our coffee! They turned out great. The creamer? Not so much - but we're working on that! See video for dissolvability & usage. 

Low fidelity prototyping: Sugar recipe in reusable mold


Voila: usable sugar prototype.

User Responses: 
- A bit thicker than need be
- Would like to be longer and thinner
- Next round: Custom 3D printed mold with interlocking bits
- Need information at point of use for how much sugar is in each stick



SPECS AND DESIGN 

An ideal length of the SugStir and CreamStir is 3.25-4.5 inches, to accommodate full reach into each coffee cup.

Interlocking design prototypes create easy packing and shipping, for less breakage during distribution, and easy grip for consumers.


PROTOTYPE V.1:

In testing for the Refinement phase, we created a 3D spec of a mold - including the option for a coffee company to imprint their own logo into the stir-stick. We kept the mold similar to the physical prototype that we have created. By finding a way to easily imprint logos on the sticks, they become more valuable for partnerships. 



PACKAGING & DISTRIBUTION:

By packaging to ship the QuickStir in sleeves made of BPI certified compostable film, and 100% post-consumer and post industrial waste recyclable cardboard boxes, and taking into consideration interlocking Stir designs for maximum support and box-fit, the QuickStir can be transported hygienically, without threat of moisture. The package it is shipped in can be recycled on-site at retail locations, or transformed into dispenser if additional heavy-duty dispensers aren’t available. 

The heavy duty dispenser system, which is also made out of recyclable materials, acts much like a single-straw dispenser. Modeled after the Dixie 'Smartstock' silverware dispensers that many fast-food and cafeterias use, the dispensing method was innovated to create little to no end-user packaging that needs to be thrown away. 

Simply press the lever, and a QuickStir of your choice (Sugar, Sugar-Substitute or Powdered Creamer) can be removed and used.

Website

We created a promotional logo and materials over at: https://www.usefuldesignlab.com/quickstir

Where are you / your team located?

Seattle, WA

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

Three items will be combined into one edible, dissolving stir-stick, thus eliminating waste from three sources: 1) The plastic stir-stick (a small, non-recyclable piece of single-use plastic, that is discarded immediately after use). 2) Sugar and sugar-substitute packets (that are usually thrown in the trash after pouring content into beverages). 3) Small plastic half-and-half containers, (which are rarely recycled, even if the foil/plastic coated pull tab are separated and discarded)

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

Use Cases 1 and 3 - aiming to eliminate excess waste in to-go environments, and aiming to replace unnecessary items. QuickStirs target product delivery both in retail and in cafe contexts. This is especially easy to handle in takeaway and to-go food markets where the end consumer sweetens their own beverage: Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Costa, Tim Horton’s, Wawa, 7-11, and traditional cafeterias and coffee and beverage chains all apply.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

Obviously the easiest would be to partner with a larger coffee chains to introduce the product to market. However, responsible marketing campaigns, social media advocacy, quirky videos highlighting product impact, brand ambassadors, taste-testing and small coffee partnerships and placing the product in food distribution environments (such as KeHE, ExpoEast, ExpoWest and grocery and product placement programs) are all in the business plan.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.
  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.
  • Piloting: You have started to implement your solution as a whole with a first set of real users. You may have started to develop a business model for your idea, including identifying key customer segments, relevant partnerships, go-to-market strategy, and draft financials.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

It would create opportunity to accelerate the product development lifecycle, freeing funds to create and test sugar molds, focus on environmentally friendly supply chain development, 3D sugar printing, shelf-life tests and dissolve tests, while further refining business and marketing strategy. It would also create opportunity for high-level introductions to possible brand partnerships, increase visibility of design, and leverage opportunity to hire more team members to focus on retail placement.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

After working in the coffee industry for years, and traveling the world, Reinert was lamenting the fact that so many to-go options created waste, and thought "wouldn't it be cool if we had dissolvable spoons made out of the things we actually want to put in our beverages?" After finding the Circular Design Challenge and reading through all of the research, she realized that the perfect idea would be to test user assumptions and apply for the NPE Accelerator Program.

Tell us about your work experience

Reinert worked in Innovation at Coexist Coffee – in charge of building supply chains, product development, marketing campaigns and more. She also works with UNICEF and the UNDP in design & strategy.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

The QuickStir concept is proposed by a sole proprietor of a product design company with package and food science background. She is looking to expand.
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Attachments (4)

QuickStirPackagingDevelopment.pdf

How QuickStir's packaging is environmentally considered from start-to-finish: Only using recyclable or compostable elements, and providing heavy-duty end consumer systems -- that can be recycled once they're done being used!

QuickStirPlasticSystem.pdf

How the main QuickStir item enters (or, avoids completely) the plastics system

QuickStir_UserExperienceJourney.pdf

A user experience journey for a QuickStir consumer.

18 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of Lauren Ito
Team

Hi Dana Reinert 

We have received your Refinement Phase Submission Questions! Just a friendly reminder that the Phase closes tonight, August 31st at 11:30 p.m. PT. so please update your contribution on the platform before the deadline.

Thank you for all your work this Refinement Phase and for being member of the OpenIDEO Community!

Spam
Photo of QuickStir: Sugar & Creamer Solution Reinert
Team

Thanks, Lauren, for all the great facilitation!

Spam
Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Dana!

Welcome to refinement!

How would people using these be able to control the amount of sugar and cream in their coffee? For example, if one person wants sugar no cream or one person wants a lot of cream but a small amount of sugar, or one person wants lots of sugar and cream?

Would the sticks need to be packaged for hygiene reasons?

What would their shelf-life and durability be like?

I look forward to seeing some user feedback. We have some interesting ideas from a previous challenge:

Stairwear -
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/fall-prevention/finalfeedback/stairwalker - is a great example of low fidelity prototyping and filming and gathering feedback from the user at the same time.

Employee wellness programs from our food waste challenge - https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-waste/final-feedback/employee-wellness-programs-offer-more-than-just-healthy-eating-tips - is a good example of identifying and testing the riskiest assumption with the use of A/B

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me by tagging me here (@ followed by my name) or send me an email - krushton@ideo.com

I just want to remind you that the deadline to complete the Refinement Questions via the online submission form is August 31 at 11:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

Spam
Photo of QuickStir: Sugar & Creamer Solution Reinert
Team

Love the Stairwear version of low-fi prototyping, Kate! Thanks so much for passing that along. Currently doing a little more prototyping this weekend, and hoping to test some users and record feedback. Thanks so much for the great ideas - and excited to move this forward!

Spam
Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Dana!

There are 7 days left in the refinement phase.

If there is key information in the comments on your idea submission, I recommend that you move them to the main body of your idea submission before the cut-off time.

I just want to remind you that the deadline to complete the Refinement Questions via the online submission form is August 31 at 11:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

Spam
Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Dana,

Could this be adapted to use case 3 - straws - https://d3gxp3iknbs7bs.cloudfront.net/attachments/d7cfea9d-b5a2-4ce3-a8de-3e518a3c4b67.pdf?

Spam
Photo of QuickStir: Sugar & Creamer Solution Reinert
Team

Hi Kate,

It definitely can! The replacement portion of this is that we're replacing not only single-use sachets (sugar packets, half and half packets) but also the straw/small plastic stir stick that people use to stir their packets. While it wouldn't exactly replace a drinking straw in a cold drink, it does cut down on the amount of plastic used when people grab straws and plastic to stir. Was that what you were thinking?

Spam
Photo of QuickStir: Sugar & Creamer Solution Reinert
Team

Hi Kate,

Really innovative idea! I think it would be interesting to explore along expanding that product line, and create two separate products under the same innovation: One would be a quick-dissolving stir stick that transfers sugar and creamer into the coffees, which was what I originally proposed, and the Sorbos idea could be really interesting: A non-plastic straw that perhaps holds sweetener as well. That would be fantastic for those of us who enjoy sweetened iced drinks, but have an issue with dissolve rate of sugars in cold environments.

Fascinating! Thanks for the suggestion!

Spam
Photo of Troy Gardner
Team

Very cool concept but I think that we need to push this closer to the point of production, and personalize it. Right now soda dispensors mix on the fly, water, carbonation, and flavored syrups. Would you rather just go up to a dispensor and have it remembr you like the particular coffee you liked last time with the precise amount of sugar?

Also when you make coffee like we do, it's naturally sweet and doesn't need sugar. Put alternately the amount of milk/sugar you need to make coffee palletable, the worse the coffee is for you healthwise.

Spam
Photo of QuickStir: Sugar & Creamer Solution Reinert
Team

Hi Troy!

A few questions about your comments: What do you mean when you say "when you make coffee like we do"? I'm looking at American/Canadian/British use cases, mostly, in coffee takeaway environments and cafes that pride themselves on their own way of making coffee, and targeting large coffee chains.

Large dispensers that pre-mix coffee and creamer already exist, and instead of replacing whole supply chains, all it takes is a small replacement, cafe by cafe, to make a difference!

Thanks for your feedback!

Spam
Photo of Troy Gardner
Team

see my entry, the first high grade fresh roastedd cold brewed ready to drink espresso ( and ristretto, drip/pourover), prebrewed like soda syrups or fruit juice, it's better in beta testing than every cafe and do not need cafes cause we do it in entirely new ways, that do not need milk or sugar except if you want calories

Spam
Photo of QuickStir: Sugar & Creamer Solution Reinert
Team

Hi Troy,

I'm glad you have such a dynamic entry! Good luck! I used to work for a cold-brew and coffee company that provides pre-made cold-brew to cafes. You're correct! The longer cold brew is a sweeter taste, however a lot of people we sold to still wanted to add their own flavorings and sugars. Good luck! Let me know if there's anything I can do to help.

For this particular entry you're commenting on: we're looking for other ways to innovate along product lines, and something that can be seen as a value-add for large corporations (Starbucks, Tim Hortons, Dunkin Donuts, etc), right at the end-user. That way, its not seen as a competition, but rather an easier way to phase out plastics and sachets!

Best!

Dana & the QuickStir Team

Spam
Photo of Troy Gardner
Team

Thanks. In the space of better than what's there I totally see your idea making things better, and support all the clever and cute entries on this contest to reduce the amount created, and give us less waste/more time, particularly nobody likes hand picking up plastic sachets from the gutter they are clogging up.

Spam
Photo of Eric S
Team

Very cool concept. One question – do you imagine that people would use the whole spoon (I imagine that would be a lot of sugar) or just a portion of the spoon itself to sweeten? Would you imagine people would throw away the rest of the spoon, or is there some way to repurpose it? The other issue is that people understand the measurement involved in packets (whether they are a "1" or "2" sugars kind of drinker) – but I imagine educating consumers around how much will be released with each stir will be very important. That can also be a boon because it empowers the user to feel more involved in taking part in making their drink. Nice job!

Spam
Photo of Lauren Ito
Team

Dana Reinert great to have someone with your background in the beverage industry joining our challenge! Excited that this design eliminates plastics.

Can you share some insights, challenges, and user feedback you have gained from the prototyping phase of this idea? Who were your users and what shifts in behavior would need to occur for adoption of this idea?

Really looking forward to learn more!

Spam
Photo of QuickStir: Sugar & Creamer Solution Reinert
Team

Thanks, @Lauren Ito! Would love to share insights.

First, I surveyed a blind test group of working professionals, of the age range 23-60, who all frequent cafes or coffeeshops at least 1-2 times a month for a beverage (it was a large anonymous survey). 53% of respondents get a beverage 2-3 times a week, and an additional 21.9% fall into the "every weekday" or "once a day or more" categories (I consider these my "super users").

Then I asked questions to identify coffee additive habits:

73% of respondents add something to their beverages to sweeten or change their consistency (cream, sugar, sugar substitute), and 59.4% of those users preferred to add it themselves (as opposed to the barista or premade and premixed drinks) to control amount of sugar, creamer, or other.

65.6% of respondents directly cite the amount of packaging that goes into sugar, creamer and stir-sticks being unnecessarily wasteful and would like to see a solution. The remainder of respondents marked "didn't care/doesn't matter to me".

In the free-form section of the survey, they mentioned annoyances such as "Single serve packets, so wasteful and hard to open while holding coffee!" as well as "Normal sugar doesn't dissolve without stirring, and I don't like sugar substitute". All of the responses seemed to welcome something easy to grab from a clean dispenser, use, and move about your day, without having to deal with pesky packaging or excess time.

When moving forward into prototyping, it was a smaller focus-group and really it was testing certain styles of sugars, hard versus granule sugars, and different spoon sizes. As we mentioned above, it was focused on dissolve rate, where 20-30 "stirs" were something those who were used to stirring in lots of ingredients (creamer, sugars) thought would be ideal, but we found that a simple 5-15 stir pattern to be "normal", as per users who stirred in sugar daily.

Those respondents who drink cold drinks also wanted to make sure that whatever was developed took into account simple syrups dissolved better than sugar granules, so a harder pressed, finer granule sugar or fine granule sugar substitutes were flagged as "preference" versus the larger granule sugar cubes. Small focus groups also mentioned liking the idea of stir stick creamers and flavored sugars/substitutes.

Really looking forward to developing more partnerships and larger focus groups to test "formal" prototypes! We had the opportunity to research 3D sugar printers, which could help when deciding on final spoon/stir curvature and design, before finalizing injection molding or press molds for larger-scale distribution efforts.

Spam
Photo of Cary Howe
Team

One of the few ideas I've seen that is both original and practical. Good luck. You'd have my vote. You might expand a bit and add in flavorings as an option. People love flavored coffees so it could make the product even more attractive. Hot sugar is easy to cast so manufacture shouldn't be an issue. For the final product injection molding will be the best bet. There is probably existing equipment or at least food grade injection equipment that can be easily modified. Having injection dies made is pricey but they will last forever with sugar. I hate to recommend China but it's really easy to get bids off companies and they are dirt cheap. Getting the dies made there would be far cheaper than here. Most of the injection equipment is made there now anyway.

Spam
Photo of QuickStir: Sugar & Creamer Solution Reinert
Team

Thanks for the support and great ideas, Cary! We were thinking of testing flavored creamers and mixing those in the product expansion as well, but it definitely could be simpler to do flavored sugars, especially looking at different ways to bring the product to market!
For the next few prototypes, finding partners who can help us test density and dissolve rate would be key - then looking into trying to find suppliers and production facilities who are cost-effective and also sustainable.

Again, really appreciate the support!